Leadership Lessons from the NHL Playoffs

Those of you who know me are aware that I’ve been a big Tampa Bay Lightning hockey fan for almost 25 years. Sadly, my team lost in game 7 of round 3 of the 2018 playoffs. As I watched the NHL playoffs this year, I realized there are many parallels that can be drawn to good business leadership.

For those not familiar with the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s an elimination tournament consisting of four rounds of best-of-seven series. Eight teams from each of the two conferences qualify for the playoffs based on regular season points totals. It’s a very long process over a period of weeks that is emotionally and physically exhausting for the players. (And emotional for some of the fans, too!)

Throughout their playoff run, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced some major adversity. Their ability to overcome setbacks was impressive in the early rounds.

In each of the first 2 rounds of the playoffs, the Lightning won because of a total team-effort. When one player had a bad night, another stepped up and elevated their game to ensure a win. All four lines contributed to the effort, from the stars to less-recognized players. They play unselfishly, trusting their teammates to pull them through when times were tough. Can you count on every one of your employees to contribute to your success? Are they working together as a team? Do you have a culture of trust? Or is internal competition limiting your overall success?

When the media and others doubted the Lightning, they believed in themselves and pulled together even more. They felt they had something to prove and then went out and proved it. Does your team tend to listen to the naysayers? Or do they believe in themselves even in the face of adversity?

When the Lightning fell behind in a game or a series, they did not give up. They sacrificed their bodies to block shots and kept trying until the last second ticked off the clock. That determination and perseverance allowed them to win games they were not expected to win. Are your employees that engaged? Are they willing to sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others?

When they played the more physical Boston Bruins, the Bruins used some questionable tactics to distract and upset the Lightning players, including licking the face of a Lightning player. Have your competitors ever tried something that pushed your buttons? How did you react? The Lightning managed their emotions and stuck to their game plan, leading to an eventual series win.

The Lightning’s ups and downs continued into round 3 with the Washington Capitals. They had lost 2 games at home before winning the next 2 away games to even the series. After again trading wins, it all came down to game 7. The Capitals did not allow the Lightning to score in that game, eliminating them from the playoffs. As in business, the best strategy can fail if it is not executed properly. How are you ensuring that your strategy is properly executed? Do you debrief with your team when you lose a deal or a customer? Do you regularly monitor KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)?

While my team will not achieve their goal of winning the Stanley Cup this year, I am hopeful that some of these leadership lessons from their playoff run will help you achieve your ultimate business goals.

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